Homebrew PVR with HD?
December 20, 2007 8:30 PM   Subscribe

Just switched from cable to DirecTV (7 HD channels on cable just wasn't cutting it), and we have a Mac Mini we'd like to use as a DVR. Possible? Practical?
posted by joshuaconner to Technology (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Out of the box, a Mac mini can't deal with 5.1 sound or HD TV signals. It is possible, but not practical. You'd need to get a USB or Firewire card that can accept the HD signal from the DirecTV box. It will also be messy since you'd have to have some sort of IR thingy to allow the Mac to change channels on the box. You'd need to get an external HDD since Mac minis have tiny hard drives inside. You'd want a 5.1 USB sound card so you can play the HD back in 5.1. Now if you could live with standard definition and stereo sound, it would be cheaper, but still kludgy and it defeats the whole point of your moving to DirecTV for HDTV if everything you record shows up in standard resolution.

Net net, you'd spend a lot of $ and spend hours setting something up -- and having a really good chance a show you wanted to watch not getting recorded -- than if you just bought/rented the DirecTV DVR.
posted by birdherder at 8:41 PM on December 20, 2007

The new Mac Mini does provide a 5.1 connection, you just need to use an SPDIF cable to connect to your reciever and can't use a bunch of analog connections....

I agree though that the problem here is getting the HD out of the cable box and into the Mac Mini... Something like the Elgato Eye TV DTT can read the HD, but birdherder is right, you'll need an IR blaster device to actually change the channels on the cable box (I think I read about one called Zephyr IR if you want to try google)...

You'd also need a firewire external HDD, but they make these for the Mini, and even in a case that fits right under it...

It's doable and not as hard as birdherder makes it sound, but harder because of the cable box... I've got over-the-air HD and I've been considering it myself for a while now, so I'm all info'ed up... :)

(A really good resource for this stuff is www.123macmini.com, which has a special section in their forum for Mac Media Center machines)
posted by ranglin at 10:59 PM on December 20, 2007

Personally, I've been using an Elgato EyeTV 410 for Free To Air HD and other Digital broadcasts in Australia for the last 3+ years and it's worked great. All either on a G4 powerbook or currently on an iMac. I haven't have cable or any analog of it for quite some time.

I'm certain that it's been mentioned here many times but the Mac HT forum at AVSForum is an excellent resource to get the ins and outs of setting up a Mac Mini as a HTPC.
posted by michswiss at 3:38 AM on December 21, 2007

I'm fairly certain that all digital receivers are required to have a USB or FireWire port that allows for data acquisition from and control of the digital receiver. I don't remember seeing where or why, but every digital receiver (satellite and cable) I've looked at has had a USB or FireWire port on the back.

Maybe try plugging in your receiver to your Mac and see what pops up in the device list?
posted by yellowbkpk at 11:54 AM on December 21, 2007

If your DirecTV receiver does in fact have a firewire port, then it may be possible to capture the video stream over firewire. If not, then you will need something like the EyeTV.
posted by andrewraff at 1:20 PM on December 21, 2007

You are unlikely to be able to get HD out of your directTV box and into your Mac mini without hacking it/paying someone to hack it.

FTA is one thing, terrestrial HDTV tuners are another, but DirectTV won't let you get at the signal in any usable digital form, and there are no consumer grade analog HDTV capture cards yet.

Active firewire connections are a requirement for US cable boxes, but somehow the satellite providers aren't subject to the same regulation.

(*I use MythTV, a linux homebrew PVR/media center, and follow the users mailing lists pretty closely. I would hope that I'd hear about any analog HD capture cards near the bleeding edge of them being available, and while I think we're not far off, I haven't heard of any consumer devices yet. I currently record HDTV from my cable box via a firewire connection only, since there is no broadcast HDTV within several hundred miles of here.)
posted by Nodecam at 2:23 PM on December 21, 2007

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